By Our Reporter/In conakry
The October 12 presidential election in Guinea presents this oft beleaguered nation a chance to consolidate its frail democracy. It also promises to rebut the views of the casual observer of Guinean politics. Superficial analysis of the political terrain suggests incumbent President Alpha Conde is in a rut, perhaps a deep one.
After all, his chief opponent Cellou Diallo, the conservative economist, is of the Brahmin caste of the Puehl, the largest ethno-linguistic group in that nation, hovering around 35-40 percent of the population. Diallo led after the first round of the 2010 election where he was barely edged out by Conde in a dramatic runoff. Add to this the lethal calamity that was the West African Ebola crisis. The epicenter of the outbreak, this nation lost over 2500 people to the hemorrhagic scourge.
Ebola occasioned significant collateral economic damage as well. The outbreak felled commerce and investment. It slowed GDP growth to a nearly imperceptible pace. During the 2013 parliamentary elections, Conde’s Rally of the Guinean People was derailed in Conakry where the party failed to claim a single seat and did not win an outright majority in the National Assembly. Given these factors, it would seem that Conde is in trouble; prudence would require him to start
packing his bags from the presidential residence. However, the facts on the ground state otherwise.
A tribute to what some observers call his gutsy performance and to his underrated skills as a folksy politician, this former professor seems destined to win the approaching election and to accomplish this feat without the suspense of a second round. Conde is primed to win an outright majority of voters in the initial balloting. Much like Guinea itself, his political fortunes seem to have risen from near death. ( if this last phrase is too strong culturally, “death” should be replaced by “oblivion” )
Despite the troubles the nation has endured and those it continues to face, the people apparently like Conde, and he has performed sufficiently to maintain their trust and affection. While elections in Guinea are notorious for being driven by ethnic loyalty, Conde’s support now cuts across these traditional divides. Recently campaigning in areas considered strongholds for Diallo, Conde drew large enthusiastic crowds. Locals say this surprising draw is attributable to the road work and other infrastructural projects Conde has directed to rural communities, including those in the Puehl heartland, much to Diallo’s consternation. As a result, prominent Puehl community and business leaders have angled toward Conde. As one of them bluntly put it, “Yes Cellou Diallo remains our son, but Alpha Conde is our man.”
Conde benefited the capital city while doing himself a valuable political favour by constructing the hydroelectric dam in Kaleta. This dam furnishes Conakry with around-the-clock electricity. The city, once forebodingly dark at night, is now lit and livelier. Again, this is symbolic of Guinea’s recovery from Ebola. It was also timely politically. The electricity came not too early so that people would forget or take it for granted as they make their electoral decisions and it came not so late as to be disdained as a cynical delay in providing needed services just to curry maximum political favour. Some criticize Conde for delay in the dam construction and resultant provision of urban electricity. However, most seem to appreciate him for honouring the promise of electricity that many prior leader made but failed to keep.
A like sentiment describes the public’s perception of his handing the Ebola crisis. Some criticize him from being slow to realize the magnitude of the tragedy. However, Guineans are highly nationalistic. Because of the unique colonial history of the nation, they are acutely wary of foreign neglect and intrigue. Thus, in the main, they commend President Conde for his strident public criticism of international indifference and slowness in coming to the aid of the affected nations. He is seen as both championing the national cause as well as using his extensive international contacts to finally marshaled support for the nation during that awful episode in ways the other potential contenders could not have done.
While Conde enjoys a positive wind at his back, his chief opponents seem confused how to respond. Diallo may have lost whatever luster he had. His campaign is almost invisible. Appearing stiff and aloof in public, Diallo fails to duplicate the friendly connection with the average person the president has. Diallo’s platform is unimaginative and does not offer a compelling alternative vision. With a nation breaming with young voters and thirsting for development, his innate conservatism does not play well. “The people do not want to be told to tighten their belts, they want to be told they0 will soon have jobs so that they can buy a new and better belt,” according to a political observer. The observer continued that Diallo’s electoral strategy seems to rest on his ethnic appeal and his belief that the people cannot help but view him as innately superior to all other candidates, including Conde. Thus, his campaign seems static – almost caught in 2010—and has not gained new traction in 2015. As with all old things that are not polished regularly, it has lost its gloss.
Other campaigns of the other candidates such as Sidya Toure suffer many of the same infirmities. Their campaign insiders know Conde is well ahead in public opinion. Their lone hope and objective is that Conde does not claim a first-round victory, then they can engage in the political horse-trading and exigent coalition building customary of second-round politics here.
They also know a large voter turnout undermines this narrow objective. Sadly, some of these candidates and their parties have embarked on a strange campaign. Instead, trying to get people to vote, they now rumor violence and fear in order to suppress the turnout. This may be tactically the only move they can make. However, it is inimical to Guinean democracy and the stability of the nation because it augurs potential violence painted by ethnic colorations
In the end, the people of Guinea should have the right to decide their fate and to select the government of their choice in a clean, peaceful election. As it now stands, the more people that vote, the more likely president Conde will claim a first round victory.